From Hollywood with (Bessie) Love

Day 126 of Colourisation Project – September 10

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

In the golden era of silent movies, where aspiring actresses were christened with sickly sweet names like Arline Pretty, Blanche Sweet, Billie Dove, Louise Lovely and Grace Darling, Juanita Horton was never going to cut the mustard.

Texas born, Juanita Horton received her Hollywood baptism from film director, D.W. Griffith who christened her Bessie Love and cast her in a small roles in his films, The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916).

Bessie Love

Photographer Albert Witzel – Bessie Love c 1918 – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Given her petite stature and youthful looks, Hollywood found her somewhat difficult to type and so cast her in either ingenue or flapper roles. Despite this Bessie Love went on to become a motion picture actress achieving prominence mainly in silent films and early talkies. Born on this day, September 10, 1898, Love’s career covered 141 films and spanned across seven decades.

Further to her acting, the twenty-one year old Love wrote the screenplay for A Yankee Princess, a silent comedy drama produced and distributed by the Vitagraph Company of America in 1919 and starring herself. Unfortunately it is amongst the lost films of the silent era.

Love gained popularity with audiences as a steady stream of roles kept her busy well into the late 1920’s. Starring in more than 30 silent films throughout the 1920s, Love worked with leading actors such as Douglas Fairbanks, John Gilbert, Adolphe Menjou and William S. Hart. This included a major role in Hollywood’s first dinosaur film, The Lost World (1925) and The King on Main Street (1925), where she  performed the Charleston dance; the first time ever on screen. Her brilliant performance in Frank Capra’s bittersweet comedy, The Matinee Idol (1928), which for many years was considered a lost film, can now be enjoyed again by fans after its discovery in the archives of the Cinémathèque Française and its high quality restoration in 1997 by Sony Pictures. For those technically minded, you can read about the restoration here.

One of her finest performances was in Cecil B. DeMille’s lavish Dress Parade (1927) but it was her smooth transition into MGM’s first all-talkie role, The Broadway Melody (1929) that earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.

By 1932 however, her career was beginning to wane. She moved to England in 1935 where roles were few and where she remained the rest of her life. She worked on stage and in occasional films. She served with the American Red Cross in England and entertained the troops during World War II. She became a fixture in British films playing small roles in movies such as No Highway in the Sky (1951) with James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich; The Barefoot Contessa (1954), with Humphrey Bogart; and The Greenage Summer (1961) with Kenneth Moore. In 1958 she wrote and starred in the play, The Homecoming in Perth, Scotland.

Among her more memorable roles are Isadora Duncan’s mother in Isadora (1968) and the telephone operator in Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971). She also played in a number of low-budget films from the 1950s through the 1970s. In the 1980s she appeared in the big-budget Ragtime (1981) starring James Cagney, and later that year in Reds (1981) starring Warren Beatty. 68 years after her screen debut Love appeared in her last film, The Hunger (1983) starring David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve.

In 1977 she published her life story in From Hollywood with Love: An Autobiography of Bessie Love.

Love died in London, England from natural causes on April 26, 1986 at the age of 88. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6777 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, California.

_____________________________________________________________

“Very soon I was chosen as Douglas Fairbanks’ leading lady in The Good Bad Man….I wanted to jump over the moon and was rushing off to tell him so, when my informant said, ‘Thank Mrs Fairbanks. She’s the one who chose you'”    –   Bessie Love

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